Successfully reported this slideshow.
We use your LinkedIn profile and activity data to personalize ads and to show you more relevant ads. You can change your ad preferences anytime.

Trends in Technical Communications in North America


Published on

Guest lecture to students at University of Limerick in Limerick Ireland in March 2008.

Published in: Education, Business, Technology
  • Be the first to comment

Trends in Technical Communications in North America

  1. 1. Trends in Technical Communications in North America Christopher S. LaRoche, Adjunct Lecturer School of Professional & Continuing Education (SPCS) Northeastern University March 2008 Copyright © 2008 - Christopher S. LaRoche & Northeastern University
  2. 2. Introduction Welcome• CSL Background - Technical Writer - 13 years - Taught technology - 8 years• Evolution of this lecture - Often chat with colleagues about the state of the job market in the US and Canada - Have a strong connection to Ireland and interested in the technical communication field and how it emerged and grew in Ireland the last decade - Talked with Professor Cleary about this topic and it seemed quite relevant and useful
  3. 3. Trends in Technical Communication Discussion Summary• Here is the overview of the topics to discuss today: – Recent History of the Profession – Job Growth Areas/Sectors – Tools/Single-Sourcing – Trends – Where are the Jobs? – Salaries in the US – Degree or Certification needed? – Full-time (Permanent) vs. Contractor – Future
  4. 4. Trends in Technical Communication Recent History of the Profession• Job market was totally exaggerated and wild between 1995 - 2000/2001. Salaries went crazy. Impossible to not obtain a job if you wanted one then.• Bust of the (dot).com economy and US recession (and 9/11) made the job market shrink unlike it had in a long time. Jobs were scarce – and took few years to recover. Salaries constricted.• Since 2004, the job market has been quite strong. Many were “flushed out” of the profession if they did not have updated skills or gave up on this type of work during the economic downturn.
  5. 5. Trends in Technical Communication Recent History of the Profession• Salaries have recovered well – about the level of the pre (dot).com bust, but salary varies wildly depending on geographic region, technology level, and company.• Outlook is good for the near future (next two years), with the caveat that it depends on how weak the US economy becomes – and that would trigger a slowdown in hiring. Has not happened yet, but will if things get worse economically.• The set of skills and level of expectation of work output has increased too the last few years. “Doing more with less” is not only a cliché, but it is a reality in many situations.
  6. 6. Trends in Technical Communication Jobs – Growth Areas/Sectors• The computer/technology/IT field has been the place where most folks have found employment. It is the largest sector and has paid the best. Hit hardest by the downturn in early 2000s, but recovered well.• Over the next 5 – 10 years, the areas of real growth will be the healthcare area, including bio and pharma. Software associated with these areas will really grow quickly. Healthcare has been growing steadily of late, but US demographics will dictate this faster growth.• With the American baby boomer population getting older and controlling costs in US healthcare, this will be a huge area of growth.
  7. 7. Trends in Technical Communication Jobs – Growth Areas/Sectors• The computer/technology/IT field will continue to grow, but likely at a more modest pace than the previous decades as it is a more mature industry. Areas of most growth in this sector will be the emerging markets: mobile and everything wireless (both software and hardware).• Similar to the computer field, financial services will grow too but at a more modest pace. This has been one of the biggest growth areas the last decade and is also a bit more of a mature industry.
  8. 8. Trends in Technical Communication Tools• Until a few years ago, you could know Word, FrameMaker, and RoboHelp and be quite well placed to work in any type of company and industry. That is changing.• Many companies still use those tools, but one of the results of the recovery after the (dot).com bust and recovery was a huge pressure to reduce costs and come up with something resembling “single sourcing” of documentation.• With this dynamic, it makes things more exciting, but even more pressure to learn more tools and try to keep up on changes in the field and industry.
  9. 9. Trends in Technical Communication Tools – Single Sourcing• Many companies use FrameMaker with Quadralay (Web Works Publisher/ePublisher) to produce a PDF of the book and then output to HTML - from same source at reasonable costs. Although not optimal, many companies use this since they can then produce both PDF and HTML. There is often “in-house” experience with these tools (and templates), and it is cost effective, often $700-$1,000 per licensed user.• RoboHelp has had difficulties on keeping up with the market, mostly due to internal issues (being bought out by Adobe), but they have an ability to output to a variety of formats. Its popularity has waned as the product’s future is cloudy.
  10. 10. Trends in Technical Communication Tools – Single Sourcing• As a result, another help system, MadCap Flare has emerged (from the founders of the original RoboHelp), but not too familiar with that software.• Another tool that has emerged and is one of the better options is AuthorIT. You write it in a type of WYSIWYG editor, and outputs to any format you desire (Word, Frame, HTML, XML, etc). This is one of the better “single sourcing” tools available, but has a steep learning curve.
  11. 11. Trends in Technical Communication Tools – Single Sourcing• Some companies have moved toward XML-based situations where you can then output into a variety of formats. This is fairly high-level and still often requires either an expensive Content Management System (CMS) or a homegrown application, which is often difficult to use.• This is area where many companies are moving, specifically with using DITA to create structured documentation.• Pretty clear that there will be some sort of “single sourcing” tools and abilities emerging much more over the next few years, especially in companies that have a tremendous amount of documentation to output that overlaps. Also, larger companies have the money to invest in this infrastructure.
  12. 12. Trends in Technical Communication Trends• Since the rebound of the last few years, there is a real trend to rein in costs for documentation teams this means several things: – Do more with less It is much more common the past few years to hire fewer writers, often no editor (rely on peer editing), and be much stricter about which software to purchase for documentation departments. – Bringing together groups with common interests/concerns This often includes placing different groups together or trading information much more openly. For example, now training and tech pubs might be in the same group or work closer to create documentation. Usability/User Experience teams often are more tied to documentation since there is a common interest in creating a usable interface – both better for the user and requires less documentation!
  13. 13. Trends in Technical Communication Trends– Outsourcing This is when much of the work is done by either contractors or third- party vendors. Often companies, especially smaller ones with limited budgets and products, will use a third-party vendor to do the documentation and not employ full-time writers or editors. This is even more common with editorial as it is easier to justify. This trend will likely continue to grow.– Off shoring From about 2003-2006 this trend really was prevalent and there was a general view within the field that many of our jobs were moving overseas – mostly from North America to Eastern Europe, India, and China. Jobs had moved to Ireland a decade before, but much less fanfare! Was a real guttural fear within the community about this and some thought the jobs would return due to poor documentation. Did not happen. Realistically, many jobs did move and they are not coming back.
  14. 14. Trends in Technical Communication Trends– Technical Writing as a “Commodity” In some ways, technical documentation is viewed as a commodity. Especially on very simple products, editorial processes, or even documentation that only requires maintenance updates (beyond the initial release). Realistically, anything viewed as a commodity can easily be outsourced or off shored. This is important when decided on the area you want to work in and maintaining your skill set. Flexibility and adaptability is key here!– The Printed Book From Tech Pubs is Extinct Almost all companies are either starting or have either eliminated printed hard-copy documentation or charge the customer to receive it. The idea of delivering documentation is almost exclusively online – either a PDF if a book motif or HTML if online help or Web-based browser.
  15. 15. Trends in Technical Communication Where are the Jobs?• One of the wonderful things about this profession is that jobs are often everywhere, and you can also often work remotely if the job is not in a place where you want to be.• That said, the clump of the most and best technical writing jobs are located around certain areas – mostly where the technology companies are(!): – Austin – Boston – San Francisco/Bay Area/Silicon Valley – Seattle• Other areas such as Chicago, Montreal, NYC, LA, Toronto, Vancouver, etc. have decent jobs but just fewer choices.
  16. 16. Trends in Technical Communication Salaries in the US• The pay rate for technical writers is decent. The salaries have recovered from a few years ago. Note that these statistics are in (weak) US Dollars and are what you could expect in the “Big 4” areas (and New York): - Junior/Technical Writer - 0-3/4 years ($35,000 - $45,000) - Senior Technical Writer – 5-6 years ($50,000 - $65,000) - Principle Technical Writer – 7 plus years ($65,000 - $90,000) - Manager of Technical Writers ($65,000 - $120,000)• Obvious variants on where you are working – New York vs. Milwaukee, the size of company, as well as the technology level required (programming languages for example). Generally, larger companies pay the most and have best benefits. Canada pays a bit less generally.
  17. 17. Trends in Technical Communication Degree or Certification Required?• Been a huge debate in the profession for years about if a degree or certification is required of a technical writer.• The answer is that it is quite roughly 50-50 of writers working in the field who have some sort of certification (a bachelors or masters degree, graduate certificate, or diploma) in technical communication and those who simply learned the trade “on the job.”• Quite often certification is helpful when trying to launch you into the career, since an academic credential will often be some equivalent of work experience. Also, when the economy is tight, having a certification could be a differentiator in getting the job over someone who has no certification.
  18. 18. Trends in Technical Communication Degree or Certification Required?• Quite honestly, having some type of certification, as well as practical experience (such as an internship) or work experience is a great combination to help you land a job of your choice instead of the first job that comes along.• If you can obtain some type of internship within the field is so much helpful. It was how I started in the profession and landed me my first job.• I realize most of you are rather busy working on your degrees and might be overwhelmed, but think about this option if it is available.
  19. 19. Trends in Technical Communication Full-Time (Permanent) vs. Contractor• There are many opportunities in both full-time (permanent) and contractor jobs in the US and Canada. By its nature, our field often has contractor jobs available for short-term products.• Being a full-time employee usually offers the ability to learn products and tools well and within your work environment and is theoretically more stable than contracting. Offers full benefits too, which is a huge issue in the US.• Being a contractor allows much more flexibility and the ability to take time off. You often make a higher hourly wage (often 10-50% more) than full time. Often people will work through an agency to place them in various contracts.
  20. 20. Trends in Technical Communication Full-Time (Permanent) vs. Contractor• The huge issue in the US is that being a contractor pays more hourly, but you are responsible for all your own benefits – mostly paying your own cost for health insurance (which is incredibly expensive) and not getting paid for any vacation time. You might also have to pay additional retirement taxes if you are a fully-self employed person.
  21. 21. Trends in Technical Communication Future• Predictions are always dangerous, but will try to give my best “educated guess” on where we will be moving as a profession in the next few years.• The role of technical communicator is needed and valued in many companies, but I also see our role being redefined the changing over the next few years. One of the most important things is that we are viewed as a cost more than other areas (like development). To thrive we will have to show our value beyond “producing books”.• Since user interfaces have generally improved and most of our users have a basic understanding of the Windows and browser interface, often less general documentation about user interfaces is often required than previously.
  22. 22. Trends in Technical Communication Future• Documentation is needed in products, but also is seen as a cost – so are now on the front lines of “cost cutting” and this is solved by using contractors, outsourcing, and off shoring. We must show we have value beyond the obvious.• Realize that many of us might well move into other related careers: training, usability/user experience, QA/SQA, etc. Even while still writers, we might well perform these functions.• Flexibility and adaptability are the most important components, as well as being able to work with all types of people.
  23. 23. Conclusion Conclusion• Overall, there are many various opportunities for technical communicators throughout North America. The last few years have seen a rise in the number and types of jobs, and looks to continue as long as the economy stays decent. Just be flexible and adaptable!• Please feel free to send me email with any questions:• Questions?• Thanks and good luck.
  24. 24. Trends in Technical Communication General Links• Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA):• ACM SIG CHI:• Society of Technical Communicators:
  25. 25. Trends in Technical Communication Tool Links• Adobe Downloads (free trials for FrameMaker & RoboHelp)• AuthorIT:
  26. 26. Links Job Links••• (all freelancers and short-term contracts)• UPA Jobs Site• STC Jobs Site